The Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur
On the first track of this album, Patrick Watson's vocals sound a lot like Chris Martin. The first track of this album is a pretty, sparse, piano-led ballad. To put it simply, the first track of this album is a Coldplay song by any other name, maybe a downbeat off-cut from Parachutes. It's likable in the way Coldplay songs are all essentially likable - but it really wasn't quite what I was expecting from Jason Swinscoe's electro-jazz collective. Familiar Ground is much more like it - a slow burning, melancholic piece enriched by R'n'B legend Fontella Bass's deep, warm delivery of the simple, repeated lyrical mantra. It's one of two tracks on this LP blessed with her vocal talents, and her tremendous work on the world-weary, soulful lament Breathe is genuinely moving, establishing it as the album's highlight by a long distance. The third singer employed by Swinscoe on Ma Fleur is Mancunian songstress Lou Rhodes, making up a triumvirate of characters from the imaginary film this record was conceived to soundtrack. Unfortunately, while Bass soars Watson and Rhodes for the most part founder, their underwhelming duet on Music Box featuring a barely audible take from the former Lamb frontwoman and a lacklustre Watson failing to conjure up any real emotion.
One of the stated aims of the production of this album was for the instrumental tracks to say just as much as those that feature vocals, and at their best the minimalist arrangements really allow the record time and space to breathe. The brass-laden title track is the standout, adding some much-needed variety to the record's sound, and the band also try to mix it up a little on As The Stars Fall, an agreeable, lilting track enlivened by some faint feedback and distortion which for some reason has an extended, hi-hat driven outro apparently tacked on for the sake of it. This lack of restraint rears its head again on Child Song, which is tainted by a prolonged session of noodling as unwelcome as it is unnecessary. On the whole, Ma Fleur becomes bogged down all too often in samey, exceedingly dull mood pieces and only very occasionally truly comes to life - I really didn't want to make a cheap crack about background music, but I feel like my hand's been forced.